Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays, a seven-day springtime festival commemorating the liberation of the Ancient Israelites from Egyptian enslavement. It also happens to be one of my favorite holidays because of the incredible food and family traditions it inspires. This year, I’ll be celebrating the holiday on ToriAvey.com with a new annual event called The Passover Potluck. I’ve invited several of my blogging friends to share their recipe ideas for Passover. You may be familiar with some of the blogs, while others might be new to you. Some of them are Jewish bloggers, while others are not, meaning they’ll bring a new perspective (and some awesome, original flavors) to the Passover table. They’re all terrific, and I know you’ll love them!
To learn more about the Passover Potluck and my fabulous guest bloggers, click here.
To kick things off, I’m bringing a very special recipe to the Potluck table– not from a food blogger, but from a distinguished member of the Tribe. Last Friday, thanks to my friend Jackie at Domestic Fits, I had the privilege of meeting Holocaust survivor Michael Berkowits in his senior living complex. On that same visit, I was also introduced to another amazing woman– 104 year-old Mary Goldberg. You read that right. 104 years old! Dear Mary, bless her heart, is amazingly strong and coherent for her advanced age. She spoke with me about her long life, and also shared a tasty Passover recipe that I know you’ll love. But first, a little more about Mary.
Me and Mary in her Southern California apartment.
Mary Goldberg was born in England in 1908– her maiden name is Mary Ziff. Her mother was English, her father Russian. Her parents immigrated to America when Mary was 9 years old. They lived for a while in Chicago, then made their way west to California, where Mary has lived ever since.
Mary on her wedding day– she was 18 years old. Her husband, a Jewish man from Russia, was 23.
Mary got married at 18 years old and had three children. Her first daughter died of leukemia when she was quite young. Her son and daughter are still alive and well– her daughter is 77 years old, her son is 74. They all celebrate the holidays together here in Southern California. She also has a sister in Denver who is turning 98 soon.
Believe it or not, Mary still cooks from time to time– not much, but once in a while she’ll make chicken soup with matzo balls or kugel. “I was a good cook in my day,” she said. “Every Saturday, I used to bake a yellow cake and bring it down to the beauty shop.” She told me how her mom used to roast brisket in the oven– she remembers on the holidays eating gefilte fish and kugel. I asked Mary what her favorite Jewish food is. She said, “I don’t eat pork, or ham, or bacon. I do like herring, very much. My son brings it to me sometimes, I love it. I also like making noodle pudding– lokshen kugel.”
When we began talking about food, Mary pointed to the top of her refrigerator to a floral recipe box. We got it down and started sifting through it. Mary showed me some of her favorite recipes, including the recipe I’m about to share with you– Passover Mandel Bread. As we talked about the recipes, she handed me the box. “Take whichever cards you want,” she said. “I don’t cook much anymore. You enjoy them.” I can’t tell you how much this warmed my heart. I chose four cards from the many that were there, including the Passover Mandel Bread. I asked her if I could share her mandel bread recipe with my readers, and she said “Sure!”
Mary and her recipe card box.
Mandelbrot cookies are an Ashkenazi Jewish dessert dating back to the early nineteenth century. Mandelbrot are closely related to the Italian cookies known as biscotti, which were first made in the Middle Ages. The word mandelbrot means almond (mandel) and bread (brot) in German– in Yiddish, the cookies are known as mandelbroit. In America, these tasty little cookies are known as mandel bread. Typically mandel bread are twice-baked, which makes them crunchy. They’re perfect for dipping in your tea or coffee. Because most of the moisture is baked out of them, they also have a fairly long shelf life.
Before meeting Mary, I had never made a Passover-friendly Mandel Bread. Mary’s recipe inspired me to try, with terrific results. The mandel bread has a nice tender texture– it’s on the softer side, even after the second baking cycle. It’s got a lovely hint of citrus flavor (I think it would be great with orange zest/juice too), and the nuts give it a nice crunch. It’s a great treat to have on hand for the week of Passover.
Before leaving Mary, I asked her what her secret for longevity was. She shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t know. I like people. All the things that you see around me– the pictures– they’re all my children and grandchildren. I’m a lucky woman, I had good children. I live a good life.” Throughout our interview, she spoke with pride about her family. After meeting with Mary for a short time, I think her secret is simple… she appreciates the love in her life, and the love of her family. When she says, “I like people,” she really means it. She’s a genuinely warm, friendly, and positive person, and she was very happy to share her story.
I thought this would be the perfect way to start our Passover Potluck— with age and wisdom. Thank you Mary Goldberg!
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Mary Goldberg's Passover Mandel Bread
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup matzo cake meal
- 1/4 cup matzo meal
- 2 tbsp potato starch
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together oil and 3/4 cup sugar. Beat in the eggs till well mixed.
- Whisk in lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon and salt.
- Use a large spoon to stir in the matzo cake meal, matzo meal, and potato starch till a wet, sticky dough forms (the consistency should be half dough, half batter).
- Stir in the slivered almonds and chopped nuts.
- Cover the batter with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to 48 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper for easier cleanup. Lightly grease your hands with canola oil. Lightly grease your hands with canola oil. Use the dough to form 2 long, thick rows or rectangles on the baking sheet. Each row should be between 3 ½ - 4 inches wide. Make sure you leave at least 2 inches between the rows, as they will expand during baking.
- Bake mandelbrot for 30 minutes. Take mandelbrot out of the oven. Place the rows on a cutting board and let them cool for 10 minutes. Handle the rows carefully, they are delicate and prone to crumbling.
- Slice the rows into ½ inch wide biscotti-sized slices.
- Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into a shallow dish. Roll each cookie in sugar. Again, handle the slices somewhat carefully to make sure they don't crumble.
- Put the slices cut-side down back onto the cookie sheet, then bake for another 10-20 minutes, until firm with crisp edges. The longer they stay in the oven, the crisper they’ll be. Keep an eye on the texture and don’t over-bake, or the mandelbrot will dry out. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a rack.
- Store in an airtight container. Mandel bread will last several days because most of the moisture is baked out of it. For a longer shelf life, wrap each individual cookie in foil, place in a sealed plastic bag, and freeze for up to three weeks.
- These are especially delicious when dunked in coffee or tea. Yum!